The first day of summer is right around the corner, and as your chickens are happily chasing bugs and brooding over new chicks, there are a few things you need to know about summer care for your flock to keep them healthy and clucking happily.
Summer heat affects a chicken much as it does their owners, increasing their body temperature, but unlike humans, chickens do not sweat! They cool down by panting or spreading their wings away from their body.
The average body temperature of a chicken is between 104-107 degrees, so their ideal weather is 50-75 degrees. Egg production is highest during the seasons when temperatures are in that range, but as temperatures increase egg production decreases. They need additional energy to try to cool their bodies.
As temps soar, you need to be on the lookout for heat stress/stroke.
Signs of heat stress/stroke in chickens:
Rapid breathing and Panting
Much like a dog a chicken will pant with their beak open.
The bird has wings outstretched and feathers lifted trying to catch a breeze.
Change in Color Combs/Wattles
The combs and wattles are the only skin open to the air, and if they are pale in color, it is a sign of distress.
Stops Eating and Increase Water Intake
Just like us, your hens will not feel much like eating but are drawn to drink as much cold water as possible.
There is only so much energy to go around, and when a chicken uses tons of energy trying to stay cool, the hen may become droopy.
Increase in their water intake may cause diarrhea.
Change in Egg Production
Higher temps mean less egg production but it can also mean thinner shells if your bird is dehydrated.
Disorientation, Staggering or Seizures
These occur when a bird has heat stroke, and immediate action is required, or death may be imminent.
Prevention is the key, and your summer strategy should include increased water, providing relief from the heat, and a change in your feeding schedule for your ladies.
How to keep your chickens cool in summer:
- Add extra waterers, calculating 500 ml per day for each full-sized bird, roughly one gallon for every seven adult birds.
- Place the waterers in shaded areas only and help the temperature to stay more refreshing by adding an ice block to each waterer both morning and evening when you fill them.
- Add marbles to the drinking dish to reduce splashing.
- Wash the waterers frequently with a 10% bleach-90% water solution.
- Mix up a water-soluble electrolyte and add it to your water, helping to increase your bird’s water intake and replace those electrolytes lost by heat stress. Freeze the mixture into ice cubes to add to the waterer.
- Simple solutions to providing relief from the heat for your chickens:
- Make sure your birds are not overcrowded. Each bird needs four square feet of space in an indoor space and five to ten square feet in a run.
- Decrease their living temperature by adding shade to their runs and keeping the lights off during the day.
- Increase ventilation in the coop by opening vents and windows, switch out your solid coop door with a screen door, add a small fan to circulate air and only put two inches or less of bedding in the coop and nests to avoid trapping in more heat.
- Provide some cooling measures by supplying a dust bath, adding misters to your coop or for free rangers turn on the sprinkler and watch them play!
Summer Feeding for Chickens:
Feed them in the early morning and when it cools down in the evening, making sure it is in a shaded area. They still require grains for good egg production, but digestion does generate heat so grains should only be given during the cooler times of the day.
During the heat of the day, you can give your flock a treat of frozen fruits and veggies. The girls will eat them up.
Don’t forget the 90/10 rule though, 90% complete feed and 10% treats
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound as Ben Franklin used to say, and that definitely rings true when assuring that your flocks have a healthy, happy summer.
All it takes is freezing some fruits and veggies, adding some extra waterers and shade and keeping an eye on your feathered ladies and both you and your flock can enjoy the lazy days of summer together.